Two nights ago I caught Seasick Steve at the Metro in the city. It was a very good show.
Steve, if you don’t know, plays the blues on a number of mostly home-made guitars. He’s a good ol’ American boy in the best hobo musical storyteller tradition. He’s a long career of recording engineering and production for other artists, but has come into his own as a performer in the last decade or so. Isaw him twice in London. He was here to play the Byron Bay Bluesfest, and I figured I enjoyed him enough to catch him again on his sideshow in Sydney.
I skipped the opening act, Claude Hay, not because he’s not awesome – he is – but because I’ve seen him three times already this year.
The last two times I saw Seasick Steve he played on his own; it was just him, his stomping foot, and his guitars. That was more than enough of a show. But he had a drummer this time, a beardy bloke who pounded a pretty good beat. The first tune was Steve playing his ode to his One-String Diddley-Bow: always fun.
But at the second song he introduced his bass player. Bass player, I thought? He’s branched out to entire band now, has he? I wonder what that will be like.
It was only then that I discovered that Seasick Steve’s bass player is none other than John Paul Jones, who was one-quarter of the legendary Led Zeppelin.
Three people in front of us turned around when they heard my brain explode.
Somehow, JPJ has been playing with Steve for nearly a year, and recorded his last album with him, and it entirely eluded my notice. I’ve become a pretty poor music fanatic, honestly.
The night of music went ‘way past all my expectations. All of Steve’s songs are great blues stomps, and he plays a slide guitar with incredible enthusiasm. He tells wry jokes and funny stories and then sings rough-throated hollers while he punishes however many strings happen to be on the piece of wood in his hands. There’s not a lot of variety in the songs, but they’re honest and rhythmic and great roots music.
But then, on top of that, was John Paul Jones. He’s still a demon musician. He wields that bass like a maestro, and lays down some serious groove. But with Steve he played electric mandolin, acoustic guitar, and even a freakin’Champan Stick. When he was on the mandolin he set out some solos nearly as fiery as Steve’s. I’ve seen JPJ before with Them Crooked Vultures, but he had more to do here, and more fun, I think.
Together they were a phenomenal trio. Wow.
Oddly, one of the highlights was the quietest songs. The drummer left the stage as Steve and JPJ sat alongside each other, John with an acoustic guitar. Steve said that when he and John were both kids, many years ago, the band they each most wanted to be in was The Everly Brothers. He cracked a joke about John going on to be in a pretty good band himself. They then proceeded to duet a slow, tender, quiet version of “Cathy’s Clown”. Magic.